Erik Van Alstine

Erik Van Alstine

Author. Leadership strategist. Expert in Perceptual IntelligenceTM.

Life is chess, not checkers.

How do I succeed? How can I find fulfillment?

If there were a simple answer, I suspect everyone would be successful and fulfilled.

But there isn’t.

Ahh, an objector would say, but the great Chinese philosopher Confucius says, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”

Then we find out that Confucius didn’t say this. It’s a misattribution, which is proof that we can’t believe everything we read online. Then we find out about the massive amount of teaching that Confucius actually offered about morality and life, and how many writings there are in the Chinese classic texts attributed to him, and how his own complex political life proves the opposite of this misattributed quote.

Life isn’t really simple. Success and fulfillment is a complex problem, not a simple one. The game of life is more like chess than checkers. It takes wisdom and skill to win.

But most people bring a checkers mindset to the game of life, which guarantees they’ll lose again and again.

Then they wonder why they lose. They blame other people, and bad luck, and God, yet still cling to a checkers mindset. They don’t care about wisdom because they celebrate simplicity. They despise counsel and correction and insight, all in the name of “keeping it simple.”

Is it any wonder that wisdom literature repeatedly describes “the fool” as “a simple man,” and sharply indicts a simplistic mindset?

  • Wisdom, personified as a female artisan in Solomon’s writings, says, “How long will you who are simple love your simple ways?” (Proverbs 1:22)
  • Later in his writings, Wisdom says, “Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of insight.” (Proverbs 9:6)
  • In two places Solomon writes, “The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.”

Sure, people often over complicate things. That’s a mistake too. But we err on the simplistic side too, and if we aren’t hungry for wisdom, life has a way of dumbing us down by default. The key is to simplify things as much as possible and not over simplify. To paraphrase the German physicist Albert Einstein, “Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

The problem is, success and fulfillment are complex problems, and when people take a simplistic mindsets to a complex problems, they make big mistakes. Here’s how H.L. Mencken described it:

For every complex problem there is a simple solution. And it is always wrong.

This is why I love wisdom. Wisdom is power to change our lives and change the world. It is power to succeed, find fulfillment, and help others do the same.



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